Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: BERNARD TRAFFORD

THERE'S no pint of beer quite so delicious as one offered free by a landlord. It happens rarely enough! But, when it does, there's a magic about it.

The same's true of a free drink from the boss. When I was a young teacher there was a special pleasure in seeing the head pour a drink or get a round at the bar.

It's not about meanness: after all, most of us can afford to buy ourselves a drink. But somehow that free one tastes extra-good.

So I thought it was a great idea when I learned that fast-but-nonetheless-terribly-healthy-foodchain Pret A Manger had given employees a quota of free drinks to giveaway during the course of a day. No rules: just decline to take money for the coffee from that smiley guy, pretty girl, lonelylooking fella, whoever.

That charmingly customer-centred gesture was revealed by journalists as new Company Policy and denounced as cynical. All right, perhaps it might have been nicer still if the baristas (as we now call them) had proved spontaneously generous: but I doubt they earn enough on a shift to start handing out freebies from their own income! No, a no-stringsattached, just-make-a-gesture approach gets my vote: sadly I haven't got into Pret yet to try it out.

I prefer that idea to the irritating habit of many such chains of handing out loyalty cards. Cards are a bit demeaning: I don't really need to save up 10 little stamps in order to get a free coffee: besides, I always lose them.

My vote stays with Pret! I'm sorry for them that an understandable policy to make customers feel good became the subject of such critical comment.

After all, we're all about giveaways these days. Look at the election campaign. At every party HQ there's clearly a strategist locked in a dark cupboard working out which tiny, targeted sector of the electorate hasn't been bribed yet.

So sophisticated is the whole election business nowadays, I'm awaiting a giveaway from Labour or Tories aimed precisely at me: me, not even the couple next door. Imagine the conversation: "We've a middle-aged professional guy here with an ageing Mercedes, a wife and a passion for jazz. …

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